Necessary Change

I’m a creature of habit. That may, or may not, be a surprise to you, but I eat the same breakfast every morning, and love a good routine that doesn’t get interrupted. Change for me hasn’t been easy; though over the last year this is an area the Lord has been stretching me. There are times when change is necessary—and often vital—to our advancing. If we constantly stayed in the same place—physically, spiritually, emotionally, or intellectually—we’d become stagnant and cease to develop and grow. God calls us to be people who are willing to let Him change our plans. I’ve discovered it’s far easier to embrace that as soon as He begins, rather than to resist and be a late adopter.

We announced last week that we have two staff couples who are allowing God to change their plans. Not only does that show their sensitivity to the Lord, and boldness to step forward as He directs them, but there’s subsequent rippling effects those decisions have on each of us, which presses the need to be ready to change our plans as well…and that’s ok. The fact is that God has great things to do in you and me individually, and in all of us corporately. This new season will allow everyone involved to grow and develop in ways that wouldn’t happen if things just stayed the same. So we change, and in so doing, we open ourselves to fresh and new blessings from the Lord.

Throughout the Bible we see people whose lives advance as they allow God to change their plans. One couple in particular I think of is Joseph and Mary. Can you imagine what would have happened if when Mary had been approached by the angel she said, “Sorry, but that doesn’t fit my plans”? Or if Joseph had been unwilling to take the steps to protect, lead, and provide for this new, Holy Spirit-conceived trio. Each of those things could have resulted in God’s ultimate plan not being realized through the lives of these individuals. I’m presuming you’re hearing what I’m saying in that God’s plans would have been worked out regardless, but whether or not Joseph and Mary participated in what God intended was up to them. Thankfully, they stepped in and answered the call set before them—Mary with the words, “Let it be to me according to your word”, and of Joseph it says he, “did as the angel of the Lord commanded Him.” They were able, as a result, to participate in God’s plan of salvation being set in motion for the lives of all humankind.

I can’t imagine those days were always easy for them. Change is hard, and sometimes it can really interrupt your plans. But we will never advance into what God intends for us if we’re resistant to the things He wants to do. So we actually have the ability to decide if we’ll partner with God in what He’s doing or allow Him to bypass us for the sake of what might seem like our own convenience or preference. The important thing is to focus our hearts on Jesus—who doesn’t change—and allow Him to direct us in all things.

I’m so thankful that we’ve developed a culture at TCOTWSC that allows for people to freely follow God’s call on their lives, and allows for God to change their plans. May we all always remain flexible to His calling, and sensitive to His voice directing our steps—and what we’ll see is that the days ahead will be even more hope-filled than those we’ve already lived.

Let’s move forward together.

Advancing Through Transitions

When we started this year prophetically themed, “A Year of Advancing”, I didn’t have any idea all of the ramifications that title might hold. From the first weeks, we were talking about the fact that God wanted us to understand that “advancing” means we’ll come to the place of realizing that we can’t stay where we are right now. God desired that we would pursue more of Him as with Paul in Philippians 3—that he presses on to lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has laid hold of him.

In our earliest discussions our theme had both personal implications for each of us, and corporate implications for all of us. In these last week’s I’ve seen both of those points of advancing take place. Seven years ago we became an official Foursquare church and in that time we’ve said very few “goodbyes” to pastoral staff members. Yet, in the past three weeks, two different couples have each individually talked to me about God’s call to move them to something new. As always with transitions, they’re difficult emotionally, but when we start to look at all that God is doing in these two very different situations, it becomes obvious that these are each points of advancing for these couples, and we can trust that as God is going to advance something in them as they go, He’ll advance something in us as we stay. So hold confident in the fact that none of this takes God by surprise.

Joe and Grecia Small were the first people I contacted when The Church On The Way Santa Clarita began. Their agreement to answer a call from God and partner with us so faithfully for just shy of seven years has been one of the joys of Christa’s and my lives. They are a fantastic couple who have led hundreds and hundreds of youth into a deeper relationship with Christ. And they’ve shown great growth of leadership and ministry maturity in their time here. Last month, I received a call from a pastor of a very large congregation in the Houston area, Grace Community Church, who had heard of this couple and asked permission to contact them regarding an open position on their staff. I wouldn’t deny this as the decision isn’t mine, but it certainly was not my plan. When they went to talk to the staff in Houston there was agreement on both sides that this was a perfect fit and the Smalls will be heading out a new position in a matter of weeks. This leaves a great void here, but will truly be a point of God repositioning leaders to advance what He’s doing both in and through them to see His kingdom expanded into the lives of others. Next Sunday, April 19, we’ll be praying for the Smalls in the main service as the youth will worship with us, and then we’ll send them all back to the UNleashed room for the students to say goodbye and show their love to Joe and Grecia. They will be truly missed on our staff team, but we’re trusting since the Lord is the one repositioning them, He’ll have a great plan to replace them for our future advancement as well. As a point of comfort to parents reading this, we already have an interim leader chosen and you’ll be getting an email from me shortly explaining the next steps.

Brian and Melissa Bauer came with us from Van Nuys when we were still a satellite campus. They’ve served faithfully in many areas of the church and have done everything with unsurpassed excellence and spiritual maturity beyond their years. Brian’s role has grown immensely since he came to us as a youth pastor and then stepped into the role of worship leader and now serves that role as well as the executive director of ministries at the church. The anointing on his life is obvious to all who have observed him lead, and he and Melissa both exemplify the grace of those who serve the Lord with great faith and boldness. Brian spoke to me a couple of weeks before Easter letting me know that the Lord had been stirring both he and Melissa that they were to end their time on staff, because God had something new for them to step into. I wasn’t completely surprised because it’s been obvious as their gifting advanced there had to be bigger plans that God had for them. However, they also knew that they were to make this decision, and action, prior to knowing exactly where their next call would be. This is a huge faith step—one that harkens to the actions of Abram when God called him from his homeland to a land that God was yet to show him. It was a faith step then and it’s still one today, but when you talk to the Bauers you hear the boldness at which they embrace this step and the anticipation they feel of what the future holds. This, too, will leave an enormous hole in our hearts and our staff, but once again it seems hard to argue against the fact that as God is advancing them to something great in His plan, we can have great hope in the related areas of advancing He intends for us. We’ll be laying hands on, praying for, and saying goodbye to Brian and Melissa in two weeks, April 26, at all of our morning services, and we’ll have the chance to love on and send them off trusting God for the intended plan they are so faithfully believing for. Let’s keep them in prayer for this step and believe with them for God’s purpose to be revealed. As with the youth ministry, there is a great interim pastor in place who will be walking with us as we seek the Lord for His plan for our worship ministry at the church.

I know that both of these seem a bit abrupt, but we ran the risk of choosing to announce this the week after Easter rather than the week before so that we could go through the Easter celebration with the entirety of our focus on the resurrection of our Savior. Now I believe the Lord will honor us as we honor these two couples as they each step into their respective new roles in ministry and believe for the fantastic things that God will do in each of them as He continues to do great things in and around the life of those worshipping at The Church On The Way Santa Clarita. Some important weeks are ahead. Please join us for each of these.

God bless you with peace and a sense if His advancing in your life.

Resurrection Truths

I love Easter. The message of hope and transformation contained within this holiday is something that is enriching to our faith and applicable to our daily lives as Christians. It’s easy in this post-Christian world we live in to forget the depth of spiritual significance that Easter holds. We can get caught up in generic spring celebrations, so that Jesus’ resurrection becomes nothing more than a passing acknowledgement during a religious tradition. But it is so much more than that! The resurrection is vibrant, active, and meant to be alive in each and every one of us. As a reminder and a celebration of this important holiday, here are three truths we can rejoice in as a result of Jesus’ victory over the grave:

  1. Jesus is triumphant over death. Not only did Christ conquer physical death, but His victory on the cross is also a reminder that we no longer live with the death sentence of sin on our lives. By acknowledging Christ’s sacrifice for our sin, repenting of that sin, and allowing the Lord to cleanse us and guide us, we are able to actively participate in the eternal life that awaits us one day. What a beautiful exchange and a glorious future to look forward to!
  2. The timing of God’s promise is perfect. Can you imagine how long those three days between Jesus’ death and resurrection were for the disciples? Sometimes, the hardest thing about faith is waiting on the Lord’s timing, and not abandoning a promise because it doesn’t happen when we think it should. We can mourn on Friday, but be comforted because Sunday is coming!
  3. Resurrection is available for each of us personally. The Lord makes all things new, and that means He is able to resurrect the things that we consider devoid of life. Perhaps you’ve experienced the death of a dream, or a relationship, or an opportunity. The Lord is able and willing to speak new life into each situation where death has crept in. If He can resurrect from the grave, then He is able to resurrect your finances, your marriage, your health, and your faith!

I pray these points encourage, inspire, and bless you during this Easter season. May these resurrection truths be alive in our hearts throughout the year. Christ is risen!

Happy Easter!

A Triumphal Entry

Palm Sunday is always such a poignant start to Passion Week. The joy of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem juxtaposed with the sorrow of the cross and the victory through the resurrection paints the perfect picture of how the Lord is our constant hope in the midst of a world whose affections are volatile and fickle. It’s difficult to fathom how people can yell, “Hosanna in the Highest!” one day, and then, “Crucify Him!” less than a week later. But through it all, Jesus remained committed to advancing the Father’s plan—and He is still just as available to transform our lives today as He was two thousand years ago. Hallelujah!

Today, we have the opportunity to usher in another triumphal entry of sorts through an outlet we discussed as a congregation several weeks ago. We partnered with Foursquare Missions Press and committed to purchase a Mobile Printing Press as part of our Lenten celebrations. This press will be used to print gospel materials in the native language of the nation it is placed in (our press will be sent to Greece), and becomes a catalyst for materials to be distributed to the surrounding area. This mobile press empowers missionaries to spread the gospel effectively in hostile nations, where it may be difficult to ship Bibles without the shipment being confiscated or destroyed. I am proud to say that to date, we have raised almost $14 thousand toward the purchase of this press! Praise the Lord! Thank you for being faithful during this Lenten season to invest in the Lord’s Kingdom. We still have about $16 thousand left to raise in order to complete the purchase of this mobile printing press, and we will be receiving a special offering today that will go toward that remaining amount. Take some time to ask the Lord if this is an area where He would have you designate funds.

Just as Jesus made a triumphal entry into Jerusalem, we can help be a catalyst to His triumphal entry into nations where the gospel is so desperately needed. Let’s extend His transforming work to the world around us via this mobile press, and help usher in a global revival. Together, let’s ensure that, “Hosanna in the Highest!” rings out from all corners of the globe, and in every language imaginable.

Happy Palm Sunday!

Kicking & Screaming

I don’t know if this is true for all parents—but I know my perspective on God and how He loves us, directs us, and corrects us, changed when Christa and I had kids. It’s amazing how it’s possible to sometimes be equally overwhelmed with love for someone, and yet completely frustrated with him or her at the same time. This is particularly true of the “terrible twos”—when it seems like every effort toward advancing a child, both physically and emotionally, is met with a tantrum. As a parent, it can be difficult to explain to a child with a very limited perspective on life the reasons why certain things need to happen. And sometimes, children don’t need to know why…they just need to listen and obey. It’s this dichotomy that gives a fresh perspective on the Lord’s dealings with the Children of Israel as they began to navigate life following the exodus from Egypt.

The Lord worked miracles and displayed His mighty power to deliver the Israelites from slavery in Egypt to the bountiful Promised Land. There is probably no greater Biblical example of the Lord physically advancing His people than this journey. But what the Lord originally intended to be a short and direct trip from Egypt to Canaan turned into a painful, drawn out, forty-year trek through the wilderness—with the Israelites kicking and screaming the whole way:

“But the people grew impatient with the long journey, and they began to speak against God and Moses. ‘Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die here in the wilderness?’ they complained. ‘There is nothing to eat here and nothing to drink. And we hate this horrible manna!’” Numbers 21:4,5, NLT

It’s easy to see why the Lord refers to the Israelites as the Children of Israel during this period. Talk about a tantrum! It was the Lord’s deepest desire to advance Israel into their intended home—and all the blessings that came with it—but the Israelites resisted, and the result was that many never saw the Promised Land:

“Then the Lord was very angry with them, and he vowed, ‘Of all those I rescued from Egypt, no one who is twenty years old or older will ever see the land I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, for they have not obeyed me wholeheartedly.’” Numbers 32:10,11, NLT

Ouch. How many times have we resisted the Lord’s direction for our lives? How often are we like the Children of Israel—kicking and screaming…and delaying—our entrance into the Promised Land the Lord has in store for us? The choices we make can keep us from advancing (both literally and figuratively) into every area the Lord wants to bring us to. Let’s choose to listen to the Holy Spirit, trust in the Lord’s direction for us, and obey His commands…even when we don’t know why. These choices and our attitude can mean the difference between engaging in a childlike tantrum, and coming to the Lord, our Heavenly Father, with the faith of a child.

Our Battle Cry

By far one of the biggest military blunders in U.S. history took place during the Battle of the Little Bighorn, in Montana. It was here that Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer foolishly marched his 210 cavalrymen into battle against roughly 2,000 Sioux and Cheyenne warriors. The resulting massacre has become the subject of much speculation, study, and discussion among history buffs. What would cause Custer to engage in battle with an enemy that vastly outnumbered him? How could he advance his army into such an obvious defeat? Were there unknown factors that contributed to his devastating loss? Though we may never know exactly what happened at Little Bighorn during Custer’s Last Stand, one thing is for certain—he grossly underestimated his enemy.

As Christians, we run the risk of forgetting that we are also in constant battle against an enemy that we can’t necessarily see. It’s easy for us to remember, “our struggle is not against flesh and blood” (Ephesians 6:12), when we’re going through difficult times, but during the good times we can ignore the spiritual war that is still waging around us. But ignorance is not bliss when it comes to our enemy—especially when the Lord is calling us to advance into new areas of growth and relationship with Him.

“And from the time John the Baptist began preaching until now, the Kingdom of Heaven has been forcefully advancing, and violent people are attacking it.” Matthew 11:12, NLT

What a sobering picture of spiritual warfare. When we make a conscious decision to advance, the enemy notices, and he attacks. In a battle, an army rarely advances without the opposition knowing, which is why the element of surprise is a valuable military tactic. If we want to be part of the forceful advancing of God’s Kingdom over the powers of darkness, we need to be ready for war. We need to equip ourselves with the full armor of God, pray in the Spirit, and be alert and persistent in prayer for all believers (Ephesians 6:10–18). May our fervent prayers be our battle cry!

Let’s not be surprised by our enemy’s threats, but instead be ready. The Lord is calling each of us to advance into greater levels of growth and purpose this year, so let’s not underestimate our opponent. Instead of a tragic “last stand”, let’s lay claim to the promises we have in Jesus, and prepare ourselves to boldly march into the new areas He’s set aside for us in 2015. We may advance into unknown territory this year, but with the Lord leading us, we are sure to experience victory under His command.

When Advancing Hurts

Have you ever broken a bone before? The injury itself causes instant pain, but as time passes between the break and the application of the cast, the body begins to compensate, to the point that setting the bone back in its original position hurts just as much as the initial break. If the bone isn’t set and it heals incorrectly, it will have to be purposefully returned to its broken state and set in a cast in order to ensure proper growth, healing, and optimal function of the limb.

Our walk with the Lord is like a bone—solid, structured, supportive, and vital to our daily functioning. But there are times that sin gets in the way, and we can experience a break of that bone. When this happens, we need the Holy Spirit to set our broken spiritual bones back in place so that we can heal and grow. Now, I know what you’re thinking—“That’s a painful process!” I know there are times when I would rather avoid the pain of correction as well, but then I think back to the bone analogy. If we don’t take the time to address the issue and receive correction, we will heal somewhat, but there will come a point when the bone has to be re-broken in order to heal to the point that we can function at our full potential and effectiveness. To put it a different way—we can’t advance into the full scope of what the Lord has for us if we don’t allow His Holy Spirit to break the things inside of us what are holding us back, or heal the areas of brokenness that sin has damaged. Sometimes, advancing hurts.

This is not a new concept. The Bible has several passages on discipline and correction, but one is particularly poignant to me as I consider the bone analogy:

“No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.” Hebrews 12:11, NLT

What a wonderful promise. When we allow the Lord to correct us, our reward is a time of peace and a life that is right before the Lord. Just like the bone that is set in a cast and given time to heal, when we allow the Lord to work in our lives, we get the opportunity to advance beyond our brokenness and into wholeness in Him.

As we focus on advancing in our walk with Jesus this year, let’s take some time to ask the Lord to reveal areas in our hearts where we are broken and in need His healing touch, or where we are struggling with areas of sin and in need His breakthrough. May we never allow fear of the pain of discipline to keep us from advancing into the new seasons and blessings the Lord is calling us to.

Single Action – Dual Goal

The Lenten season was a big deal at the church where I was raised. As a child, I recall this would shape many of our family’s actions for several weeks leading up to Easter. There was a different focus in our daily devotions, and our church—which usually didn’t hold a midweek service—gathered weekly from Ash Wednesday through the Passion Week. I participated in all of this, but I’ll admit that I didn’t truly understand “why”.

Here’s the “why”: Lent is a season in several traditional denominations that marks roughly 40 days leading up to Easter. It was observed at as a time of heart preparation that brought the believer to the celebration of the resurrection on Easter Sunday. It was characterized by fasting, praying, acts of service, and giving to those in need. Though variations exist between denominations, these practices are common ground in most. Today, there are more Christian denominations that don’t observe this than those who do. At TCOTWSC, we’ve typically made some sort of observance for the values found—not in the tradition, but in the actual practice.

In these days leading to the celebration of the resurrection of our Savior, and in understanding of the sacrifice He made as payment for our sins, I’m asking you to join me in this time of preparation. Let’s cultivate our hearts to truly acknowledge what Christ has done and the amazing impact it’s had on our eternity—and our today. Find a pattern of fasting for these next six weeks—maybe a meal a day, or a day a week, or a meal a week, or a particular food item from which you’ll abstain. Then, replace that time with prayer—asking God to show you areas in your life He’d like to deal with—a true point of preparation. This allows Him a new place of entrance into your life in these weeks dealing with actions, attitudes, heart issues, etc. that He’d like to adjust. It makes us vulnerable, but it allows Him to work by truly shaping us. You may be surprised what you’ll hear or learn from God during these days.

Traditionally, there would be an offering made that represents the sacrifice we’ve committed to during our fast. Last week, we presented a direction for that offering. Foursquare Missions Press has developed the “Mobile Missions Press” that can be put into countries where we have trouble shipping missionary materials, or where within country they can more effectively focus small runs on differing people groups. These presses are truly game-changers, giving freedom to the missionary to accomplish things that were otherwise under a greater degree of government scrutiny and religious opposition. We’re going to buy one of these and have it shipped overseas. It will cost nearly $30,000 but the return on investment is eternal! If each of us (man, woman, and child) were to give $30 at the end of this fast we’d accomplish this goal, and I know that there are some who God will lead to give more.

This is an attainable goal. Here’s an example: one of my children talked to me about how much the ice cream they buy in that period of time costs. It’s easily $30. So, by a young person fasting ice cream, and determining that during that sacrifice they pray for God to deal with their heart as they come to the celebration of Easter, they will make a single action that will accomplish a dual goal. Heart preparation and sending a printing press to one of our Foursquare nations.

Maybe this could be done for you by giving up a Latte or two during the week; or maybe it’s skipping lunch on Wednesday; or a resisting a luxury food during that time. Whatever the plan you and God decide on, let’s allow this single action to produce a dual goal. The single action is a Lenten fast; the dual goal is our hearts made ready to celebrate the resurrection, and the money being released to purchase a Mobile Mission Press. Together we can see both of these goals accomplished. Won’t you join me?

We will receive the money for the Mobile Mission Press on Palm Sunday, March 29, but if you’d like to give weekly just mark those gifts as “press”. You can also give regularly online at our website, through our church online community, or by using the PushPay app on your smart phone.

He Makes a Way

I must confess—I’m a big fan of wilderness survival shows. Seeing people face remote locations and battle the elements fascinates me. Most of these shows provide some basic tools to the participants, and one of those tools is usually a huge machete knife to help cut branches for shelter, hunt for food, or forge paths through the thick jungle underbrush. It’s a simple tool, but very useful, and advancing in the wilderness would be very difficult without it. If you can’t effectively make your way through the jungle, you won’t reach your destination in time to be “rescued” from the situation.

In many ways, our walk with the Lord mimics some of the scenarios played out in these wilderness survival shows. I’m reminded of the Lord’s challenge to Abraham concerning his son, Isaac, in Genesis 22:

Now it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then He said, “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”

Talk about a test of survival skills! Abraham had a choice—he could take Isaac and run from God, or he could step out in obedience to God. The Bible says that Abraham choose to follow the Lord’s instructions, even up to the point that he had his only son on an altar with a knife raised to sacrifice him. It’s at that moment that an angel stops Abraham from sacrificing Isaac, and Abraham sees a ram caught in a bush to use instead of his son. Because of Abraham’s willingness to trust God and step out in faith, he received a tremendous blessing:

“By Myself I have sworn, says the Lord, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son—blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies.” Genesis 22: 16, 17

Just like Abraham, we have the opportunity to step out in faith and be willing to follow the Lord’s instructions. And just like God provided the ram as a sacrifice instead of Isaac, as we advance in what God is calling us toward, He is there providing and making a way for all that we need in order to see His promise fulfilled. This year, let’s choose to step out in trust and follow the Lord’s direction, knowing He will advance us into the beautiful promises He has in store for us!

Defending Sanctity

Today is one of those “observed” days each year that I find particularly sobering. In 1984, President Ronald Regan made a presidential proclamation, designating the third Sunday in January as, “Sanctity of Human Life Sunday”. This date coincides each year with the anniversary of the passage of Roe v. Wade, and serves as a yearly reminder of a time in our history where the inviolability of human life was reduced to a political stance instead of a moral issue. It is estimated that approximately 56,405,766* abortions have taken place in the United States since 1973—a number that many consider to be underestimated, due to lack of consistency between states regarding abortion reporting practices.

It is our job as Christians to speak life into situations where death and destruction seek to take over. Because we are created in God’s image, we are to approach the world in the same way Jesus mentioned in John 10:10: “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” But how are we to lead those around us into relationship with Jesus and the abundant life that follows if the definition of life itself is in question? How do we defend sanctity in a world that seeks to become increasingly amoral?

It’s these types of questions that make me very excited for our guest speaker today. Scott Klusendorf is a friend of mine and the founder and president of Life Training Institute—an organization that exists to equip pro-life advocates to successfully defend their views in secular forums. He holds a Master’s Degree in Christian Apologetics and is one of our nation’s top lecturers on the topic of right-to-life issues. His insight into this topic takes it beyond a “choice” debate and into the realm of an opportunity for us to minister to those around us. Let’s prepare our hearts to hear from the Lord during this message, and anticipate ways we can defend the sanctity of life as we continue in this Year of Advancing.

* This number is based on data gathered from The Guttmacher Institute—a division of Planned Parenthood of America, and from The National Right to Life Committee.